When Will Salvini Be Found Out?

The Italian government is in crisis. Yes: again. Fresh from his role as beach-bum politico, the head of the Lega and most dominant member of the current ruling coalition by far, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, has entered a motion of no-confidence in the current government. The pretext is the diametrically opposing positions of the ruling parties (the Lega and the 5 Star Movement, Movimento 5 Stelle or M5S) on the project to build a high-speed rail line between Lyon and Torino. But the real reason is likely to be last May’s European Parliament election: compared to the Lega attracting around 17% of the votes and the M5S in the low-thirties in the last general election in March 2018, those percentages were flipped around in the polling for Italian MEPs.

Some have called the Lega/M5S coalition ultimately resulting from March 2018 “Frankenstein” in that the partners were ill-suited to each other in multiple respects, and now it seems Salvini has decided this is his chance to blow it up and seize greater power – the Prime Minister’s position! – for himself. Never mind the video compilation the La Repubblica newspaper compiled of all the times Salvini had promised publicly that this marriage … er sorry, that the coalition government would last the entire five-year period before a general election would be required again.

Now, Salvini’s timing is slightly off, for as he well knows this is peak vacation-week in the Italian calendar (Ferragosto! – something about the Virgin Mary), so nobody who can afford it is at their usual job. Surely Salvini himself remains at the shore, among his bikini-clad constituency, and more power to him for that (which I mean only figuratively). What’s more, those in charge of the two houses of the Italian Parliament have made it clear there will be no accelerated procedure or other special treatment afforded for his motion to intrude on those bodies’ set calendar of business (although M5S head Luigi Di Maio is calling together members of his party so they can decide how to respond).

May I suggest the following item for their agenda?

OK, it may seem to be just about “flight records.” Actually, BuzzFeed first issued its report (“The Explosive Secret Recording That Shows How Russia Tried To Funnel Millions To The ‘European Trump'”!) a month ago; this new piece about “flight records” merely adds some detail, you could really rather interpret it as just a timely reminder, to sustain public interest in their allegations.

But those allegations are pretty bad, centering around a meeting of October 18, 2018, in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow, at which Gianluca Savoini, known to be a close aid to Salvini (having worked with him for twenty years), on a secret recording along with “five other men can be heard negotiating the terms of a deal to covertly channel tens of millions of dollars of Russian oil money to Salvini’s Lega party.” The original July piece goes on:

The recording reveals the elaborate lengths the two sides were willing to go to [sic] conceal the fact that the true beneficiary of the deal would be Salvini’s party – a breach of Italian electoral law, which bans political parties from accepting large foreign donations – despite the comfort with which he and Europe’s other far-right leaders publicly parade their pro-Kremlin sympathies.

Naturally, that July report is in English, as is this latest one from last week; readers can see for themselves the tales (plus reproductions of relevant documents and incriminating photos) of flight records to and from Moscow (and Grozny) on the part of Salvini, Savoini and other aides. But do let me mention here a particularly juicy finding. Ordinary non-Russian mortals traveling to Russia automatically appear on the Central Database for the Registration of Foreigners – but somehow there is no record there of the arrivals/departures of Savoini.

The absence of such data for Savioni [sic; annoying imprecision!] suggests either that he had a special status awarded upon arrival to individuals who, for example, don’t have to go through passport control or that the information was wiped from the database.

“Oh,” you’ll say, “then BuzzFeed really can’t be sure whether they made those flights or not.” No, actually they’ve used airline-ticket purchase records plus clues from the use of social media by the concerned parties to ascertain fairly certainly who went where and when.

“OK, then this is just BuzzFeed again pushing its own contrived ‘scoop’ that it manufactured out of whole cloth – with that ludicrous tabloid headline.” Yes, it’s a tabloid headline, but no, they make clear up front that they have worked together with bell¿ngcat – the organization of public-info-research experts who have done such good work on the MH17 flight shoot-down investigation – as well as with Russia Insider: well, I’m having a hard time figuring that on-line publication out myself, but it’s in English so you can take your own look (savagely anti-American, for one, but not under the Russian government’s thumb, either).

So you ask me, I say there is plenty of credible evidence of a serious, corrupt Moscow – Lega connection. Perhaps Salvini’s timing was not so clever after all, i.e. making his power-move to break up the coalition just as these reports emerge? Plus, this exact sort of thing has happened before, and not so long ago – in Austria! There, in the “Ibiza Affair,” it was the then-head of the far-right FPÖ party, Heinz-Christian Strache, who was caught on tape last May discussing corrupt deals with a woman posing as the niece of a Russian oligarch. Revelation of that in the press led to Stache resigning both his party chairmanship and his position as Austrian vice-chancellor the next day; Chancellor Kurz then fired the rest of the FPÖ-affiliated ministers within his government in short order, the government of course collapsed, and there is to be a fresh general election on 29 September.

Grant me this one assumption, please: That this record of having one’s leader caught consorting with the Russians to gain piles of secret money has led to disgrace for the FPÖ and will cause substantial losses for them electorally. (I know: the US offers something of a counter-example.) So why should this not also be the case for Salvini’s Lega as Italy itself heads for another general election? Is it because, unlike Strache (strangely, that proto-Nazi actually has some upstanding moral values), Salvini has taken a page from Trump, vigorously and categorically denying the accusations? (Even though it was Salvini himself in Moscow at key occasions, go read that latest BuzzFeed report.) Well, this Savoini character and two others have apparently been under investigation by Italian prosecutors about that October meeting since last February. Is it because these highly suspicious circumstances have not yet achieved wide circulation through the Italian media, so that the national electorate is not yet fully aware of them?

Or could it be that they (enough of them) are indeed aware, but they don’t care that this leading star of the current Italian political scene – working through his right-hand man in a sinister attempt at concealment – cynically tried to corrupt his nation’s politics with Russian money? Because he’s been such a he-man, batting away all the refugee-filled boats that have tried to disembark at Italian ports, and/or for some other base reason?

Hey-Ho, Salvini’s Gotta Go

I don’t need to go into the danger Salvini and his (Bannon-esque) political philosophy poses to the EU – or for some to Europe itself, here’s a fresh reminder from Italy’s big neighbor:

What about M5S, for that matter? They’re not too fond of Salvini anymore, and there is a report that their ambition now is to “unmask” (smascherare!) him. Or any of the other parties competing in the upcoming general election? Here is their weapon: can they use it? I have to think that, in his arrogance, Matteo Salvini has made a big mistake and Europe will soon be rid of him politically. How could I be wrong?

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